My story begins a couple of years ago. My wife and her brother’s wife were looking at an antique shop. I noticed that right next to the antique shop was a building that said “Central Garage”. I thought it looked kind of interesting, so I decided to take a look. There is a lot of “junk” inside which is for sale, but being a car guy, I noticed the ’47 Frazer. Frazers are pretty few and far between, so I struck up a conversation with the owner – “Robert”. He is an old hippie who has lost WAY too many brain cells for a variety of reasons. He told me his grandfather started Central Garage back in the 30’s. Of course, his Grandfather is dead now. Robert lives in a small apartment in the same building. After we chatted for a few minutes he asked me if I wanted to see his other vehicles. Of course, I wanted to, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw in the back room. The first thing I saw was a “parade locomotive” built by his grandfather on a 1936 GMC truck chassis. The cab looks like what you would expect a locomotive cab to. It even has a pull-chain for the big brass bell (although the bell has been stolen). There is also a “caboose” that is set up like a camper! When “Grandpa” went to register the locomotive, they didn’t know what to do with it, because they had never licensed a locomotive before. They decided to register it as a “convention car”, and they issued him #36, since it was on a ’36 chassis, and he had that license number for several years. Robert had several of the 36 convention car license plates hung on the rafters of the garage. At some point in the 50’s, the locomotive made a 5000 mile trip to Mexico to promote the International Lions Club. That is quite a trip even in a modern vehicle, and the locomotive is any BUT modern! The Lions evidently funded part of the locomotive, because Lions logos are plentiful on the locomotive and caboose.
Then he showed me the old wrecker. I was drooling all over myself at this point. It is an old International with a Holmes wrecker. It seems that his Grandfather also owned a towing business. Robert showed me some of the old pictures and said I could take them and make copies if I wanted to. Of course, I wanted to!
Then he asked if I wanted to see the old office. He said he never lets anyone in there, so I felt like I was pretty fortunate to be invited in. It is virtually the same as when his Grandpa had the garage. There is a book that has sales receipts for all of the Chevies that his Grandpa had sold over the years. There is also a wall rack full of old Chevy parts – bumper bolts, electrical terminals, spark plugs, distributor caps, etc. It was absolutely incredible. In fact, it was beyond words. And to know that Robert and I were probably the only people who had been in there since Grandpa died!
There is also an Army platform vehicle. It is about 4 feet wide and 6 feet long. There is a single canvas seat for the driver. The rest is totally flat (hence “platform vehicle”). The engine is a small air-cooled engine under the “platform”.
Needless to say, I have visited Robert several times since that first time. At one point, I went to visit him, but the garage was closed and Robert was nowhere to be found. After a few days, I got concerned, and went into the antique shop to ask about him. The owner said that Robert was in the Hospital somewhere, and she doubted if he would ever open his business again. I kept checking back, and finally found him there. He had pneumonia and had been in a Rehab Center for a month or so. He looked absolutely terrible. I doubt if he weighed more than 125 pounds. For awhile I checked on him just about every day. I honestly expected to find him dead. I bought him a hamburger from time and shared lunch with him. I think I was probably the only person who was checking on him then. He has slowly recovered, but he is still pretty fragile. One day when I went to see him, he said he needed $100 to get his fire inspection so he could open his business again. He offered to sell me just about anything if I would give him $100. I offered to buy the Frazer, but he wouldn’t let it go for $100! I went home and told my wife my plan. I told her I wanted to spend $100 that I couldn’t afford for some license plates that I didn’t need from an old hippie who certainly wouldn’t use the money for a fire inspection! Sounds convincing, right? The surprising thing is that she agreed! I told her I would try to sell some of the plates, and if I couldn’t sell them, it would just be a donation to an old man. I got a couple of the Convention Car plates, and some other miscellaneous plates, and Robert got his $100. I can’t say whether he ever got his fire inspection, though.
I would love to see all of those vehicles back on the road, especially the locomotive and wrecker. I can visualize the wrecker with black fenders, cream body with gold leaf lettering, and a red wrecker mechanism. I have even considered organizing a local campaign to get volunteers and donations to make that happen, but that would be a MASSIVE amount of work, especially since none of the vehicles have run for several years. Unfortunately, my pockets are not NEARLY deep enough to buy those treasures, so for now, I will have to be satisfied with visiting Robert every once in a while and cleaning up the drool spots that I leave on the vehicles!